Liberals' prioritized core values -- fairness and avoiding harm -- are more connected to the very foundation of ethics precisely because they can and should apply to everyone. Conservative core values, on the other hand -- authority, loyalty, purity -- by their nature divide the world into hierarchies of certain special people vs. others.

That's the argument by philosopher and MacArthur genius Rebecca Goldstein, that Greta Christina explains in this Alternet article.

(There's a relationship to the contrasting worldviews of interconnected Partnership Culture and hierarchical Dominator Culture here.)

From "Why Being Liberal Really Is Better Than Being Conservative":

The basic philosophical underpinning of ethics... are:

(a) the starting axiom that we, ourselves, matter;

and (b) the understanding that... other people matter to themselves as much as we matter to ourselves; and that any rules of ethics ought to apply to other people as much as they do to ourselves. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and all that...

In other words... ethics... ought to be applicable to everyone. They ought to be universalizable.

And liberal values -- fairness and [avoiding] harm -- are universalizable.

In fact, it's inherent in the very nature of these values that they are universalizable....

Conservative values, on the other hand, are not universalizable.

Quite the contrary.

It is in the very nature of conservative values -- authority, loyalty, and purity -- that they are applied differently to different people. It is in the very nature of conservative values that some animals are... more equal than others.

The conservative value of authority has, at its very core, the idea that certain special people... ought to be respected and obeyed more than others... The conservative value of loyalty has, at its very core, the idea that certain special people... ought to be valued more than others. And the conservative value of purity... when it does apply to how people treat other people... it has, at its very core, the idea that certain special people... ought to be treated as fully human... and that people who are considered impure need not be.

Conservative values -- authority, loyalty and purity -- can't be universalized. They actively resist universalization.

...I'm not going to say that the conservative values of loyalty and authority and purity are irrelevant. Loyalty especially. Prioritizing the people we love over total strangers... that's a huge part of what it means to love people in the first place...

As for authority... Even the most progressive pinko societies (I'm looking at you, Sweden) haven't abandoned the idea of authority and law. We probably need to have laws against murder and theft and running red lights and so on... and we probably need people whose job it is to enforce those laws. (If for no other reason, our wonderful universal liberal values of fairness and [avoiding] harm don't mean a lot if there aren't any consequences to violating them.)

...So I'm not saying that typically conservative values have no place in a human ethical system... unless there's a specific compelling reason to prioritize the "some animals are more equal than others" values of authority or loyalty or purity, we ought to prioritize the universalizable values of fairness and the avoidance of harm.

And you know what? I'll go even further... in every example I can think of where our morality is a clear improve­ment... -- democracy, banning slavery, religious freedom, women's suffrage, etc. etc. etc. -- the core values being strengthened have been ... the liberal values, the ones that can be applied to everyone.

(Massive ellipses and bolding are mine. Read the whole thing!)

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Replies to This Discussion

Certainly the Abrahamic religions, and many others, are all about the authority of their gods, loyalty to their gods / institutions / etc., and purity of the in-group.

On the nose, GC, and of course that fosters the whole us-vs-them mindset which almost automatically creates tension and conflict.

It's almost like the tension and conflict is the driving force. The Catholics have a lovely saying - The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Creepy shit.

GC, the five core values above were chosen to produce results desired by liberals.

Consider other core values, as illustrated below.

Liberal stuff, such as universal health care, makes natural selection go slower and the results more numerous and weaker.

Conservative stuff, such as pay-to-play health care, makes natural selection go faster and the results less numerous and stronger.

To do justice to the question, the liberal values have to relate to the conservative values. Here they are not related.

tom, I don't think those 5 values were "chosen", i.e. imposed on the research or an interpretation. I believe they emerged from data analysis.

Considerations of the function of social values in terms of selective pressure and how that impacts the population holding the values is a separate discussion.

I don't know what you mean by "To do justice to the question, the liberal values have to relate to the conservative values."

Your illustrations would seem to imply that an overriding goal of society "should be" to produce "strong individuals" who could survive on their own if hypothetically thrown into the wilderness.

If so, we've been going a different way for millennia.

Before antiseptic surgery, before antibiotics, before insulin, before eyeglasses (how many of the people you see around you depend on them?)... textiles made it possible for people to survive and thrive in colder-than-equatorial latitudes without being limited by the supply of animal skins -- they're one of the many reasons we've ended up with some seven and a half billion people on this finite planet! And writing made it possible to store vast amounts of information (and misinformation), beyond the capacity of individuals to memorize.

Universal healthcare, and other expressions of people in a society taking care of each other, are outgrowths of those foundations of ethics that "we, ourselves matter" and that "other people matter to themselves as much as we... to ourselves", leading to ethics of reciprocity and to recognizing rights to life and the pursuit of health (among other things) for ourselves and other people.

GC, the values this study says are conservative values--authority, loyalty and purity--are those of social (religious) conservatives, not economic conservatives.

The values this study says are liberal values--fairness and avoiding harm--are progressive values too, and for almost forty years I've been telling people "I'm a progressive, way out to the left of liberal".

Religious conservative leaders started attacking liberals soon after they joined the Republican Party, at Pres. Reagan's invitation. I saw them as cowards, attacking basically gentle people who were not accustomed to the "heat in the political kitchen". It's possible that they didn't know we progressives existed.
Conservative values -- authority, loyalty and purity -- can't be universalized. They actively resist universalization.

This exactly why Dominator Culture is self-limiting at planetary scale, and we need to reinvent ourselves with Partnership culture to survive.

Turns out I got the philosopher's name wrong; it's Rebecca Goldstein. (Fixed above.)




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